What’s in a name? A lot, particularly if you’re a company accused of misdeeds. The best way out, as has been shown time and again, is simply to discard your name, adopt a new identity, and start again. It’s a veritable capitalist tradition. Just ask the budget airline ValueJet, which, after one of its planes nosedived into the Florida Everglades in May 1996, killing everyone aboard, quietly became AirTran. Even cereal executives know the score: the breakfast favorite “Sugar Pops” became “Corn Pops” as health conscious mothers awoke to the idea that feeding sugar to their kids each morning was not a great idea.
What about repeated, questionable shootings of Iraqis? That, too, demands a blank slate… or so Blackwater has decided. Buried in the news Friday was Erik Prince’s decision to rebrand his network of military contracting firms from Blackwater to “Xe,” pronouned like the letter “z.” Seems pretty lame at first blush, but perhaps it’s a stroke of genius. Could it be that reporters’ fascination with the Blackwater flows, at least in part, from the perfect symmetry of shady dealings and an ominous, Bond-villainish name?
For its part, Blackwater says that the name change is not an attempt to escape its past; rather it’s meant to signify the company’s bright new future—a future that will deemphasize what has until now been the firm’s bread and butter: personal protection. Rumors of Blackwater’s desire to get out of the protecton game have been circulating for a while. See Dan Schulman’s post on the subject. But even Anne Tyrrell, Blackwater’s spokesperson (not a job anyone should envy), admits that the decision wasn’t entirely forward-looking. “It’s not a direct result of a loss of contract, but certainly that is an aspect of our work that we feel we were defined by,” she told the AP, referring to the State Department’s decision not to renew Blackwater’s Iraq contract.